Sunday, 28 August 2016

WOTVM's food adventures in London - Part 2

Today we bring you the second instalment of our recent trip to London.  We woke late after a good night's sleep and headed out for some breakfast.  Brick Lane is not only famous for its numerous Indian restaurants, it also has some excellent places to pick up a bagel.  The salt beef bagels are a particular speciality, however Mr Vegan Man could not partake for obvious reasons and WOTVM was feeling the salt beef might be too much for a breakfast bagel.  We headed to Beigel Bake - something of a local institution - as WOTVM had been there before and swore by the quality of their soft, doughy bagels.

We arrived after the regular breakfast rush and before the lunchtime queues so were served very quickly.  WOTVM opted for a classic smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, whilst Mr Vegan Man went for egg as his filling of choice.  The sheer number of bagels on display speaks to the popularity of Beigel Bake and we certainly weren't disappointed.

Sitting in a local park just off Brick Lane, we tucked into our breakfast.  The bagels were soft and satisfying.  Bagels are a food that divide our household, Mr Vegan Man is fairly indifferent towards them, finding them a bit sweet and a bit too chewy - he would usually plump for a crumpet or muffin if he fancied some non-bread baked goods for breakfast.  WOTVM, on the other hand, is a huge fan of bagels.  Even Mr Vegan Man conceded that Beigel Bake's bagels were top quality, not too sweet and with a lighter texture than the usual supermarket fare.  The egg filling was nice and hearty, though on reflection Mr Vegan Man should have asked for some mayo for extra lubrication. 

WOTVM's smoked salmon and cream cheese offering was superb - the smoked salmon was lovely and plentiful, especially at such a reasonable price.  The two bagels with a couple of cans of drink came to just over a fiver - exceptionally good value.

We headed off to Camden Town for a walk along the canal to Regents Park.  The plan was to stroll around the park for an hour or two and then head for some lunch at Honey & Co, not far away on Warren Street.  However, even at 2.30pm on a Monday the café/deli was packed full and so we decided to save it for our next trip to the capital.  We instead walked on to Tottenham Court Road and visited Leon, a fast food chain with a difference, priding itself on fresh produce and healthier options.  Leon's branches are mainly to be found in London, although they are expanding outside the capital also.

WOTVM plumped for a fish finger wrap for her lunch, whilst Mr Vegan Man went for a sweet potato falafel hot box.  The portion sizes were generous and the prices more than reasonable for the food on offer.  WOTVM's wrap was tasty, good crunchy fish fingers and nice crisp salad with a good whack of tartare sauce. 

Mr Vegan Man's hot box was fresh and flavoursome, well-made falafels with rice and slaw.  As fast food goes, Leon is a good option - everything is fresh and although the food isn't likely to blow your mind (which, if we're honest, is not something you expect from fast food anyway) they have some nice, different lunch options that are hearty and tasty.

After our disappointment at finding Black Vanilla had closed down on our trip to Greenwich the previous day, we were in the mood for some gelato.  After a quick bit of Googling, we discovered that Covent Garden is something of a gelato hotspot and so we headed off hastily in that direction.  Before we could reach Covent Garden itself, we came across Udderlicious which was busy with customers filling up on ice cream.  Although not quite the gelato we had been after, we also love ice cream and Udderlicious looked good so we popped in for a sweet treat.

We committed something of a schoolboy error - we did not realise that the number of scoops you ordered equated to the quantity of the ice cream as opposed to the number of flavours you could have.  It was possible to have two flavours with a one scoop order but we didn't realise this until we'd already ordered two scoops each when another, more savvy, customer placed his order.  We can honestly report that two scoops of Udderlicious ice cream is a very, very generous portion for one person.  Very generous.

WOTVM went for a scoop of chocolate and peanut ice cream and one scoop of salted caramel - one of her favourite flavours.  Mr Vegan Man went for the trusty combo of dark chocolate and hazelnut as his two varieties.  The ice cream was really tasty, it had a nice, smooth texture and the flavours came through nicely, especially the hazelnut and salted caramel.  We'd definitely recommend a visit to Udderlicious but if you've already eaten, maybe stick to one scoop unless you're feeling especially hungry.

In the evening we met up with two friends for dinner, one of whom also happened to be in London from Norwich for the week and the other who is a Hackney boy (but former Norwich resident) who always helpfully suggests good food spots to try when we visit.  On this occasion, his first suggestion - a Japanese restaurant near Bank - was closed, but not to be disheartened we moved on to another of his suggestions, Pizza Union near Spitalfields, which was handy for us as it was just round the corner from our hotel.

Pizza Union have a great concept, dirt cheap pizzas in an authentic style with quick, no nonsense service.  You go up to the counter to order and are given a little device the lets you know when your pizza is ready to collect.  There is ample seating - in the form of long communal benches made of scaffolding, like a more edgy, urban Wagamama - at which to sit and enjoy your pizza, but the lack of table service (which includes taking drinks from the chiller to the counter yourself too) helps the cost to stay low and means no awkward trying to catch the waiter's eye if you fancy another drink.  We're talking 12" pizzas ranging from £4 to £6.50 low, which is incredible value.  Beers were cheap too at £3.50 a bottle and we enjoyed several.

Mr Vegan man opted for a Fiorentina with no cheese (since pizzas are made to order this wasn't a problem) and WOTVM went for a Stagioni (four seasons).  The pizzas were ready in about 5 minutes, possibly less.  The bases were thin and crispy and the toppings on Mr Vegan Man's Fiortentina were plentiful and flavoursome, the egg adding a nice bit of richness and protein alongside the iron-rich spinach and salty olives.

WOTVM loved her offering - being rather unfussy about what food she likes means often she finds it hard to make a choice, but here she could get four different pizzas in one! There was a good variety of toppings and each of the four sections of the Stagioni were really enjoyable.  The crispy, light base was a real highlight and overall it was a significant cut above the average pizza chain at a price well below most high street chains.

It would be fair to say that Pizza Union are doing a cracking job of turning out delicious food in virtually no time at unbelievable prices.  What more could you ask for?  Well, in our case we were given a free dessert pizza - a dough ring filled with mascarpone and Nutella - by the lovely staff because of the very small inconvenience of us having to move seats for about a minute to enable them to reach a vent above us in the ceiling.  That was an unexpected treat and a really nice touch, we weren't put out at all by having to briefly move.

We got back to the hotel and crashed out fairly quickly, tired out from the good food and good company.  We'd definitely recommend all of the places we sampled today, but Beigel Bake and Pizza Union were particular highlights.

Coming soon will be the third and final part of our food adventures in London.  Any comments or questions, please get in touch below or via email.

Monday, 15 August 2016

WOTVM's food adventures in London - Part 1

We recently spent three days down in London; we love going to London to stroll around and take in the atmosphere and it cannot be denied that our capital has one of the best food scenes in the world.  There is great food, of all kinds, to be found and we thought we would share our experiences with you in a three part blog, one for each day of our stay.

Day one in London began at lunchtime as we waited to check into our hotel on Brick Lane.  We decided to grab some Mexican street food from Chilango by Spitalfields Market.  Chilango are a small but successful expanding London chain and they offer a range of fresh and tasty Mexican classics, such as burritos and nachos, but the menu basically boils down to choosing your meat/veg option and then deciding on the accompaniments. 

WOTVM opted for a Nudo, this consisted of a rice box topped with your choice of meat/veg (she chose chicken), black beans, salsa (mild, medium or hot), cheese, sour cream, salad and guacamole (for an additional £1.30). You are asked what toppings you would like as the dish is assembled in front of you so it's entirely your choice. WOTVM has visited Chilango a few times before and was keen to come back for good reason - the chicken was charred, juicy and full of flavour and the accompanying salad, cheese and beans combined to become a tasty and filling lunch. She opted for the extra guacamole and was pleased to see it was a generous portion, zesty and creamy and well worth the additional charge.

Mr Vegan Man opted for tacos - not the crispy, slightly dry shells you buy from the supermarket, but fresh mini tortillas individually filled with your choice of toppings to give you a hand-sized snack.  The portion size was very generous, each tortilla was filled to bursting with grilled peppers, black beans, salsa and guacamole.  Mr Vegan Man was pleased to be able to dodge the cheese and sour cream and found the flavours in the tacos to be fresh and zingy, with a nice rich smokiness from the black beans too.  The hot salsa had a nice kick but was not too fiery, but with additional hot sauce stationed at the table it's possible to give your lunch a bit more pep.  The habanero sauce was great, peppery and full of spice.

During the afternoon we took a trip to Greenwich on the river bus, partly because it was sunny and Greenwich is lovely in the sunshine, and partly in the hope of finding some delicious gelato at Black Vanilla.  WOTVM has been there previously but, alas, it appears to have closed down.  If anyone knows if this is permanent or whether they have moved to alternative premises, please do let us know.

Having anticipated that our lunch would be reasonably light, the generous helpings on offer at Chilango ended up leaving us feeling suitably full until almost 9pm.  However, being on Brick Lane we were close to a number of restaurants.  Although Brick Lane is traditionally known for its Indian cuisine, many Londoners will tell you that the fare on offer is fairly standard and not much to write home about.  Just a ten minute walk from Brick Lane, though, is Dishoom in Shoreditch.  Dishoom have three branches across the capital, all of them being a take on Iranian-inspired Bombay cafes.  The food, then, is Indian but with a Persian influence, very far removed from your run of the mill Indian restaurant.  We have been here for breakfast on a previous trip to London and it was superb - the bottomless chai was a particular highlight - so we decided to give it a try for an evening meal.

You cannot book a table at Dishoom and even though it was fairly late when we turned up there were no tables available. We were given a pager and wandered off to have a pre-dinner drink in a pub around the corner with the promise of a table within 30 mins. Sure enough the buzzer went in around 20 minutes so we downed our drinks and headed back. After our unintentionally large lunch and not wanting to over-order, WOTVM asked our waiter for guidance on what would be a good amount of food for two to share and he was happy to help us out. The menu is split into salads, small plates, mains and sides. We decided it would be easier to share all our dishes (the tables seem to be set up with this in mind with two plates stacked on the table rather than formal individual place settings) and WOTVM was happy to forgo some chicken to be tempted by tikka marinated paneer. In addition to the paneer we went for the black house dahl, kachumber, chole bhatura - which was served with a puri bread - and basmati rice.

Our drinks, a large Kingfisher and a Bollybellini, arrived quickly and the food followed shortly afterwards.  The Bollybellini was quite a treat, beautifully flavoured with rose, raspberries, lychees and cardamom.

The chole bhatura, a chickpea curry, had a real depth of flavour and was excellently spiced.  The background heat was not overpowering but built up layers of warmth in the mouth the more we ate; the spicing definitely leant more towards aromatic as opposed to outright hot, with the fresh ginger on top adding a real pop of flavour and a nice kick.  There was a further garnish of whole chilli peppers, which packed a cracking punch if eaten on their own, but when dispersed through the dish they added an extra layer of heat.  The dish was not at all oily and despite the deep flavours it did not feel especially heavy, which was perfect given how full we both felt.  Mr Vegan Man has eaten many vegetable curry dishes and this was up there with the very best and we both agreed it was the standout dish. 

The dhal was completely unique; it had a slightly masala type quality to it, with a hint of smokiness.  Really tasty! 

The paneer was lightly spiced and nicely grilled to add a very light crispness to the outside.  It came with grilled peppers which added a sweetness and crunch alongside the mild, chewy paneer.  It worked really well with the more richly flavoured dhal and chickpeas.  The puri was beautifully crispy and an excellent vehicle for the chole bhatura and black dhal, whilst the rice was light and fluffy and perfectly cooked. 

The kachumber - a salad of cucumber tomato and onion - was really fresh and added a cooling, cleansing dimension to the meal.  A selection of chutneys was also provided and each of these was delicious.  The green coriander relish was particularly good, although the smooth mango chutney, with a hint of almost piccalilli flavour, was great too.  The bhaji sauce - it must have a proper name, but this is what we call it - was sweet and worked nicely with the other sauces.

Dishoom, it must be said, are nailing it in every way.  The food is very different and incredibly tasty, with a menu that is great for vegetarians and perfect for sharing.  It is always busy so has a great buzz, but despite being busy the service felt personal and friendly, with the waiters more than happy to offer any suggestions or explanations relating to the menu.  The décor is quirky and fun with a touch of faded opulence to recreate the heyday of the Bombay café.  It takes confidence as a restaurant to not take bookings (other than for tables of 6 or over), but Dishoom have every reason to be confident when they are turning out quality food quickly and with great service.  And at £50 for food, drinks and service, it is very reasonably-priced too. 

If you are visiting London make sure you drop in to Dishoom at any time of day - they are open from breakfast through to late evening - and you will not be disappointed.  For more info, including the menu, visit their website here.

Part two of our London adventures will be coming later this week!

Monday, 1 August 2016

Lemon & garlic risotto with carrot, beetroot & courgette

Mr Vegan Man hit the kitchen again this past week with a view to knocking up something a little bit fancy for WOTVM.  This recipe is another original of ours, and in similar fashion to our previous risotto dish (see our archive) we've added some delicious garnishes to elevate it.  Mr Vegan Man has eaten plenty of risottos over the years as they are a restaurant veggie staple, however he sometimes finds that eating a whole bowl or plate of something that is all the same flavour and texture can get a little monotonous, no matter how delicious it is.  That is why he likes to add a few garnishes to add extra dimensions of flavour and texture when cooking risotto at home.
This is a great summer dish as it's fresh and surprisingly light for a risotto.  One reason for this is it contains no milk or cheese - it's another fully vegan recipe.  It also has a really nice look to it with lots of vibrant colours and would make an excellent dinner party dish.  We hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients (serves 2)
125g Arborio rice
1 small bulb of garlic
1 lemon
1 large courgette
Half medium white onion
250ml prosecco
500-600ml stock
25g pine nuts
1 small carrot
1 cooked beetroot
Few sprigs of dill
Few sprigs of flat leaf parsley
3 tbsp olive oil
0.5 tbsp red wine vinegar
Handful of pea shoots and rocket to garnish

Preparation and cooking time: 60-75 minutes

Pre-heat your oven to 180°C then break up your bulb of garlic, setting aside three cloves.  Toss the rest of the cloves, skin on, in half a tablespoon of olive oil and place in a roasting tin and then put them in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes.

Whilst the garlic cloves are roasting, crush the remaining garlic cloves and finely chop your onion, carrot, beetroot and herbs.  Slice the courgette into think ribbons, just a few millimetres thick, and grate the zest of the lemon.  This is the bulk of your prep done.

Once the garlic cloves are cooked allow them to cool for a few minutes before removing the skins.  Blitz the garlic cloves with a tablespoon of olive oil using a blender or hand blender, or if you don't have a blender just use a bowl and a fork to break the garlic down into a rough paste.

Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and toast off the pine nuts in the pan, being careful not to burn them.  In a hot pan they will take seconds to toast.  Set aside the pine nuts ready to serve later. 

Swap the frying pan (you will use this later for the risotto so just move it to one side for now) for a griddle and reduce the heat very slightly to a medium high heat.  Brush the pan with a small amount of oil - vegetable oil is fine - and then griddle the courgettes for a couple of minutes each side, just long enough to take on some strips of colour and to soften.  Place the cooked courgettes in a bowl and cover with cling film, this will keep them warm until you serve.  If you want to serve them piping hot you can cook them alongside the risotto and the carrot and beetroot relish but this will necessitate a bit of juggling!

Move the frying pan back on to the heat and reduce to a medium heat.  Place half a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and allow to heat.  Take a medium saucepan and place it on a low heat and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.  Add the onion and garlic to the frying pan and soften for a few minutes, stirring regularly so that the onion and garlic do not brown or catch on the pan.

Add the rice to the onion and garlic and stir so that all of the grains are covered in the oil and juices from the pan.  Add the prosecco and allow this to be absorbed by the rice, stirring frequently to ensure even cooking.  When it reaches the consistency of a thick rice pudding, add some stock and repeat the process until the grains of rice are cooked.  This will take 20-25 minutes.  Halfway through cooking, add the roasted garlic puree and lemon zest and mix in.

When the risotto has been cooking for 10 minutes, add the diced carrot to the saucepan in which your olive oil has been heating over a low heat and stir so that the chunks are all coated.  Leave to cook on the low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the red wine vinegar and beetroot and mix together, leaving to cook for just a couple more minutes.

Right at the end, when the risotto is just cooked, taste the risotto and if it needs more lemon flavour then squeeze in the juice from the lemon that was zested earlier (add a bit at a time and keep checking to ensure you don't overdo the lemon).  Season the risotto well with salt and black pepper to taste.  Add the chopped parsley and dill to the carrot and beetroot and mix thoroughly and you are ready to serve.

Spoon the risotto into the middle of a plate or large bowl and top with the courgettes then scatter over the pine nuts and the carrot, beetroot and herb mixture.  Garnish with some fresh rocket and pea shoots.

That's it!  A beautiful, fresh and vibrant dinner.  Give it a try and let us know how you get on by leaving a comment below or by sending us an email.